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True Religion, Part 5: Holy Affections

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 17, 1997

Matthew 6:19-24

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If you have Bibles, please open to Matthew chapter 6 and we will continue our study of Jesus' teaching about true religion. In fact, from Matthew 6, verse 1, down to verse 18, we have seen the Lord Jesus Christ address the issue of giving, of praying, and of fasting. And it is interesting in contrast to the Pharisees the Lord Jesus hasn’t said, well to make sure that you don’t get into the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is I am just going to make praying, giving and fasting optional. You don’t really have to do it anymore. He hasn’t done that. In contrast to the Pharisees, He said to His disciples, I expect you to pray, to fast, and to give, but when you do it, I don’t want you to do it for the praise for men. And so in the first part of Matthew chapter 6, Christ is emphasized that in everything that we do, as part of our lives as Christians, we are not to do it for the praise for men, the enhancement of our reputation, as pious, or religious individuals. We are to do it as unto our heavenly Father who loves us and we are to do it for His pleasure and for our own spiritual good. Not for the praise of men.

Now Christ shifts His attention as we move into verses 19-34 of Matthew chapter 6. Whereas He has been dealing with outward practices, giving, praying, and fasting, now he zeroes in directly on the heart. Now He has been dealing with matters of the heart before, because in our praying, and giving and fasting, He has given an emphasis on the point that our intention, our motivations, the state of our heart matter with regard to the performance of those particular practices.

Now, however, He deals directly with the heart itself. In fact, He is going to turn our attention to the state of our heart, having just warned against seeking the praise of men, in our religion, Jesus now warns against coveting the world. Now affluence is something which we very much have to struggle with in our culture in our nation, in our state, and even in our city. We have been blessed and there is no trial like affluence. And many believers stand firm in times of testing and destitution who fall in times of affluence and so the Lord Jesus speaks to us of something that is very relevant to our own day and age. Christ is here calling His disciple to be different from the popular culture. He wants them to avoid the hypocrisy of the religious people of their day, the Pharisee, but He also wants them to avoid the worldliness, and the materialism of the Gentiles in His days. And so we hear God’s holy word, beginning in Matthew 6, verse 19:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. "The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. "But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word, may He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Father, we ask Your blessing on our hearing of the word. We pray that You would write it upon our hearts and we pray, O Lord, that You would open our hearts up to be searched out by this word today. By the Spirit, apply this word to whatever area of our life is seeking to escape the reigning grace and lordship of Christ. And by grace, work in us holiness. Bring us to a real evaluation to the state of our hearts, and if necessary, O God, draw us to Christ for the first time. We ask all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

What do you really want, really? What is your great desire? By what measure have you evaluated the things that you really desire most in this life? Who do you serve? Who do you love? The Lord Jesus Christ gets at all those questions. They are close to the nub of what life is all about. In this passage, He sets forth two options three times. He sets for two treasures, and He says, you can either really love this treasure, or that treasure. But not both at the same time. He sets forth two spiritual conditions. And He says you can either be in this spiritual condition or that spiritual condition, but you can’t be in both at the same time.

And He sets forth two masters, and He says, you can either serve one or you can serve the other. The Lord Jesus is forcing us to make a stand, forcing us to make a choice, and forcing us to evaluate the state of our heart. I would invite you to look with me today and see the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and to specifically to ask the Lord to help you search out your own heart because the Lord Jesus means for us to engage in some earnest self evaluation as He gives His disciples these words. There are many things that we can learn from the passage. Far too many to do in the time that we have together. But I would like to point your attention to two or three things that we learn from the Lord Jesus Christ in this passage.

I. Christians must guard against setting their hearts on the temporary blessings of this life.
   
First, we see in verse 19, the Lord Jesus set forth the first of two treasures. He says there, do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. He is setting forth this principle to us there. Christians must guard against setting their hearts on temporary blessings. Christians must guard against setting their hearts on the temporary blessings of this life.

This is the first thing that the Lord Jesus teaches in this passage. Every man has a treasure. Every person has a desire. Everybody has their ultimate priority in this life. Everybody has something in which we delight above anything else. And the Lord Jesus Christ is talking about that delight. For each one of us, perhaps it is slightly different. It comes in different forms and it has been attained in various differing degrees of success. But Christ is saying here to be careful what you set your ultimate delight, your ultimate desire, be careful about that which you choose to be your ultimate treasure. Christ, by the way, is not saying that we are to have no treasure. Nor, is He saying that we may only have heavenly treasure and that we may value nothing in this life. No. He is directing us to making a very wise choice of that which we treasure the most. And He is saying to us, to be careful of temporary things. Do not supplant the things which ought to be first in our lives.

Christ is issuing a warning against making the things that are seen, the tangible blessings of this life to be the things which are our first things, the things that matter to us the most. The things that we seek after the most. The things that we desire the most. And there are number of different ways this can happen in our experience. We may make temporary temporal things our first desire by considering them in our own minds and hearts to be the best and the most useful things we have. We may assume that some of these blessings that the Lord has given us are the best things that there are to be had in life. Or, we may be absorbed in obsession with increasing the abundance of the things which we have. We may be wanting to accumulate more of the blessings that God has already given us to the point that we neglect the things that are most important in life, as if more could satisfy us or bring us ultimate contentment. We may be finding our security for the future in these earthy things, in these temporal things. They may be people. We may find our security in the future in the relationship that we have. We may find our security for the future in the relationship with someone that we think is going to provide for us. Or, we may find our security for the future in physical wealth or possessions itself. Whatever the case is, when we begin to find our security in those things, our priorities are misplaced. Or, we may be finding our contentment in earthly things and not in eternal things. In any of these ways, if we have succumbed to any of those particular patterns, we ourselves have fallen prey to making things of this world the first things. We have chosen earthly treasures, if we have fallen into any of those patterns.

And Christ in His kindness, not only says for us not to do that, but He gives us reasons, He gives us arguments as to why we ought not do that. He says don’t store up treasures on earth. Where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. He speaks of the eternal decaying of material possessions and He speaks of the possibility of someone coming in from the external world and taking those possessions from us. And of course, those things apply specifically to wealth and to possessions. But they apply much more broadly than that.

For the Lord Jesus is teaching us here two laws. The law of diminishing returns. It is not just that the things that we have will not ultimately satisfy us. We have a certain amount of things, we take satisfaction in them for a while, and then we get bored with that and we want more. It is the law of diminishing returns. You have to get more in order to continue that satisfaction. But that can happen in relationships too. It can happen in success. It can happen in popularity. It can happen in honor, in influence. It can happen in many categories of earthly blessings. We can find our contentment, our satisfaction in these earthly blessings and yet we find that after a period of time, they are not returning us the satisfaction that we once got from them. And so we have to move on to something else and sometimes we move on to something else by nefarious means.

On the other hand there is the law of impermanence. Sometimes we lose the blessings that we have. They may be blessings from God. God may bless us for a time with great material prosperity and security and then withhold those blessings from us. And if our trust has been in those blessing, if our contentment has been in those blessings, and suddenly we are without them, we find ourselves without satisfaction, without peace, without joy, without hope. The Lord Jesus reminds us that things in this life, relationships, people, possessions, wealth, honor, preferment, those things are temporary. They can not be counted on, and they cannot be our ultimate treasure.

And I want to note that Christ is not saying here that possessions are bad. Christ is not saying, Christian, possessions, things, wealth, that is bad. Wealthy people are bad and Christians ought not to have wealth or possessions. That is not what the Lord Jesus was saying that an inordinate desire for possessions, an inordinate desire for wealth is destructive. And He is warning Christian against it. Nor, is the Lord Jesus saying Christians make sure that you do not save, that you do not invest, and that you do not buy insurance. The Lord Jesus is not waging a wholesale assault on insurance salesmen and financial planners here. The Lord Jesus is not saying make sure that you are not a good steward of the resources that the Lord Jesus has given you. Make sure that you don’t provide for your family in the future. That is not what He is saying. The Lord Jesus is saying you must not put your trust in these things.

Now let me just say as an aside. Those of you who are the best stewards, those of you who have most carefully and prayerfully attempted to invest and to save and to plan for the future with the resources that God has given you, you are most susceptible because of your good planning to trusting in your planning. In your planning, and in the provisions of your plans and so those of you who are the best stewards must be careful that your trust is not in those things. It doesn’t mean that you stop planning. It doesn’t mean that you stop being a good steward. It means that you carefully and prayerfully make sure that your heart finds its trust not in the fact that there is wonderful nest egg stored up and you can already educate the kids and you can already retire in ease that your trust is not there but it is on the Lord Himself, and you recognize that those things are merely instruments. They are merely tools, they are not the ultimate satisfying point in life.

Finally, the Lord Jesus is not saying that we ought not to take pleasure in enjoyment in wealth or earthly possessions. He is not saying, don’t enjoy temporal blessing. That is not what He says at all. In fact, temporal blessings are from the hand of the Lord, and the Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 teaches us that are to accept those gifts of the Lord with thanks. But we are not to worship them, and we are not to find our ultimate contentment and satisfaction in them. We are not to find our highest joy in them. But we all, must admit that possessions and wealth do present a particular challenge to us. The more we have, the easier it is to be fooled that they, this wealth, these riches, this preferment can give us ultimate satisfaction and peace and meaning in this life. The more we have, the more possible it is that we would be fooled into accepting something which will one day pass away, and in which is not the ultimate blessing of life.

And just because one does not have a lot of money, does not mean that one is not susceptible for falling into the trap of being preoccupied with wealth. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as wealthy people. When you ask people, are you wealthy, they usually say, no.

A very famous political scientist at the university where I attended would always ask his class, on the first day of class to identify themselves. Are you in the lower class, or you in the middle class, or are you in the upper class? Almost invariably the students in the class would list themselves as in the middle class. And then he would go around the room and ask them questions about what their home life was like. He got to one fellow, and there it was right on his sheet, middle class. And he said tell me about your home. And he started describing it, and he said, well you know when you pass the compound on the way in … And he said, wait a minute, the compound, what do you mean? Well, you know, the house where the guards and the servants live. Middle class, all right, okay? We don’t think of ourselves as being rich, we don’t think of ourselves as being wealthy. And as a matter of fact, our wealth may widely vary. But we can all be trapped by affluence.

George Guilder, in one of his books, I think, Wealth and Poverty, tells the story of a queen who was obsessed with her wealth. And a prophet in her country came to her, and he said, "Madam, you are ruining your life and all the lives of all your family around you because you are absolutely obsessed with your wealth. You must do something." And so she decided that what she would do is she would go off into a monastery. She would leave all her wealth. She would live a simple life. She would wear simple clothing, and she would stay away from her wealth and she would let the chamberlain of her country manage the affairs of her household and her wealth. The prophet went and met her after many years of her being in that monastery. And he asked her, was she content, and she said, "No. I can think of nothing, but what I have left behind." And he said, "Ah ha, my madam, you have not gotten over your inordinate preoccupation with your wealth. You don’t have it to spend, but it is all you think about." You see, you may not have anything, but you can be thinking about it all the time. And you can be thinking about what you want to accumulate.

And the Lord Jesus Christ is asking us to take stock in that which we value. Do we have our treasure in the wrong place? Have we fallen into the trap of coveting possessions? William Guthrie once said, if you find yourself loving any pleasure better than your prayers, any book better than the Bible, any house better than the house of God, any table better than the Lord’s table, any person better than Christ, or any indulgence better than the hope of heaven, take alarm.

Are the alarm bells ringing in your heart? Have you found your heart suddenly drifting away from our first love and from the first things? We must be aware of coveting the things of this world. And we must be prepared to cultivate a real heavenly mindedness, evaluating the things that we think of most, in light of eternity. My great aunt used to give me what I thought when I was a child, were very boring Birthday gifts. I got toys from Mom and Dad, and from my uncles and friends. And she gave me things like poems, framed, that she had typed up, or books. As I grew, the presents she gave me were still with me. The toys were broken and left behind. What I had first valued, was now, valueless. What I had first, considered to be boring, were now the things that I treasured the most. Children don’t you misestimate the things that are the most important in life. The things which are most intriguing for the moment, have an amazing way of falling in value. Things that you might think are insignificant, sometimes turn out to be the most significant things in life. We must cultivate a real heavenly mindedness about our possessions.

II. Christians must consciously place the highest value on eternal treasure.
   
The Lord Jesus tells us in verse 20, a second thing. That Christians must consciously place the highest value on eternal treasure. He says, "Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moths, nor rust destroys, where thieves do not break in and steal." He is counseling us here to make the joys and glories of the eternal world the first things of our lives, the things that we truly desire.

What are these treasures of heaven? He is not just talking about eternal life, although that is one of them. He is speaking of all the blessings of heaven that God brings into our lives. Do we really value those blessings, do we value the fruits of the Spirit? Do we value Christ-like character? He is saying, I want you to value Christ-like character above worldly wealth and honor and riches. Do we look at our children and say thank God, I see my son, my daughter, growing in Christ’s likeness? Or do we get more excited when they get an advancement or a raise at the firm? Do we look at one another and say, thank God, that brother, that sister is growing in faith and hope and love? She is growing in the knowledge of Christ. She is endeavoring to bring others to Christ. He is using his money for Christian causes. Thank God. Look at that example of what God is doing in his life and in her life. Do we thank God for being freely justified before God, for answering prayer, for our eternal security, for the Father’s love, for sharing in Christ’s peace and joy, for knowing that we will share in ultimate victory with them? Are those the things that we value most? Or, are there other desires that are much much greater, much much more real, much much more part of our daily ambitions?

The Lord Jesus is giving us a chance to take stock of our heart. He wants us to search ourselves out. To allow the Spirit to search us out and to see where our heart is. Christ is teaching that heavenly treasure are safe. These things cannot be taken away from. They are not corruptible and they are not movable. Now let me ask you this, does your use of earthly blessings reveal that your real treasure is in heaven, or does it reveal that you are really most desirous and most content with earthly blessings? Are your earthly blessings in your view, in your heart, simply instruments, means by which you can provide for your own, bless the Lord’s people and help those who are in need? Advancing the cause of Christ? Or are your possessions so important that you find your joy in them, find your security in them? The Puritans used to say, "Let us use the world but enjoy the Lord." Modern professing Christians often say it the other way around. Let us use the Lord but enjoy the world. Is that in the secrecy of your hearts, no hands, is that something that you struggle with? Do you find yourself finding more enjoyment in these temporal things than you find in the Lord. The Lord Jesus is speaking to us here of our desires.

III. Our desires show us who our God is.
   
And it teaches us in verses 21-24, a third thing. It teaches us that our desires show us who our God is. Our desires show us who our God is. They are the evidence of what we value. Look at what you desire, and you will see what you value. Look at where your heart is, and you will see what your treasure is. He says in verse 21, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He is saying, that the temper of our mind, the things that we long after, that the tenor of our lives, follow after the things that we really think are important. We may say, well the Lord Jesus Christ is my Lord. But, the things that we desire, the things that we long after, may contradict that claim. The Lord Jesus is reminding us that our hearts follow our treasure. And so He says, "Let me ask you this, ‘Where is your heart? Find your heart, I will show you what your treasure is.’" You see, Jesus is teaching us that treasure is a test. Temporal blessing from God is a test. It is a test to see whether we will love Him more than these things. Temporal poverty is a test to see whether we will rest and rejoice in Him, even when we lack. Christ says that our desires will show us what we really value.

He goes on to say, in verses 22 and 23, that there are some people who think about life in the wrong way. "The eye," He says, "is the lamp of the body and so if the eye is clear then your whole body will be full of life." He uses a metaphor. It is almost a parable here. He speaks about the eye as if it is a keyhole letting the light of the outside world into our soul. He is speaking of the eye as that thing which focuses our energies and our attentions on certain things in life. And He is saying this. If your eye is spiritually blind, it doesn’t matter how bright the world is out there, you will not be able to chose the right treasure.

And so He is talking about two spiritual conditions. One is spiritual blindness. One of spiritual sightedness, and he is saying if you are spiritually blind, you will chose temporal things as your ultimate blessing. You will confuse the gift with the giver. Joseph Alleine once said these sobering words, there is no sure evidence of an unconverted state than to have the things of the world uppermost in our aim, in our love, and our estimation. These are frightening words. As all of us come perilously close at times to having those things first in our minds.

And so the Lord Jesus sets before us two masters in verse 24. Choose who you will serve. You cannot serve both.

Notice the Lord Jesus teaches here, not that we should not serve both God and things, not that we must not serve both God and things, but that we cannot serve both God and things. He says it is an impossibility to serve both God and mammon. So you must choose who you will serve. What is mammon? Is it wealth? Yes. Sure, it is wealth. But it is much more. Mammon could be your stomach, or you ease, or your sleep, or your sports, or your hobbies, or past time, or it could be worldly riches. It could be honors, it could be status, it could be influence, it could be receiving the praise of men, it could be pleasure, it could be children, it could be relationships, it could be the pursuit of physical health, it could even be the desire for the perfect marriage. It could be anything which we inordinately obsess on and find our security and trust and contentment and satisfaction other than God. Anything can become that kind of an idol. Anything can become mammon. And the Lord Jesus says, you cannot love God and that thing, whatever it is for you. You cannot serve them both. You cannot love them both.

And so we are forced to ask a question, three questions in fact. Where is our treasure? Where is our spiritual vision folks, and who is our master, who do you love, who do you serve? Don’t settle my friends, for the good, and lose the best. Muggeridge once said, that "The only ultimate disaster that can befall us is to feel at home on this earth." Find our trust, our rest, our peace, our reward here.

Now friends, I appeal to you, if you this day, find in your hearts that you love treasure which is here and which is not God more than anything else, you need to cry out to God and ask for a changed heart and He will do it. I warrant you, He will do it. He will change your heart. Rest in Him.

And if you are a Christian wrestling with this battle, with mammon warring in your heart against the spirit, you cry out to God. You come speak to me, or you speak to an elder, you find the help that you need to wage this war. Oh my friends, if we will win this war, we will have won much for God in our own lives, and in the life of others. May God bless His word. Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we ask that You would work in us a healthy distrust of the pleasures of this world and a spiritual longing for the first things through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

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